Tonight’s dinner is brought to you by the fine folks at La Cucina Italiana Magazine.  October 2008 and June 2009, to be exact.

La Cucina Italiana is the only food magazine we’re currently subscribing to.  I love the flavors of Italian food and between working in several Italian restaurants in my youth and living with an Italian for the past 16 years, it’s one cuisine that I’m really comfortable making my own.

Like tonight’s dinner.

There were two distinct recipes I wanted to make tonight – a baked risotto and an eggplant dish.  I’ve been looking at the risotto dish since last June.  Since we just got the black barley, I thought I’d play with the recipe a bit and make it with it.

To make a long story longer…  I burnt the barley.  To a crisp.

I had cooked it on the stovetop like risotto for close to an hour.  It was absorbing the broth but just not getting tender enough.  Finally, I added more broth, put a lid on the pan, turned the heat way low, and went to try and salvage a website I had destroyed for a dear friend of mine.  (Even longer story.)  I didn’t hear the timer go off in 15 minutes and about 45 minutes later got up with a panic and…

Thank gawd for Calphalon .

So…  I remade it with arborio rice because I wanted to eat dinner at a reasonable hour.

It rocked!

Risotto al Forno


  • 4 large porcini mushrooms (about 7 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus more for ramekins
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
  • 1/2 small zucchini, cut into 1 ⁄4 -inch dice
  • 1 medium tomato, cored and cut into 1/4 -inch dice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: 4 (4-ounce) ramekins


Trim mushrooms and cut stems from caps. Separately cut caps into 1/4-inch-thick slices and stems into 1/4-inch dice. In a large skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. In a single layer, add mushroom caps and cook until softened, about 1 1/2  minutes per side; transfer to a plate and season with salt and pepper.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add mushroom stems, celery, carrot and zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add tomato and cook until any liquid from tomato has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and toss with parsley, sage, mint and pinch salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 400º.

In a large saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden then add rice, stir to coat with oil and cook for 1 minute more. Add wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any bits. Cook until wine is mostly evaporated, then add 1 cup broth and reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring, until broth is mostly absorbed, 5 to 7 minutes. In 1/2 cupfuls, add remaining broth, stirring until each addition is mostly absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you may have broth left over). Remove from heat and stir in cheese and remaining tablespoon butter.

Generously butter ramekins. Line bottoms with a single layer of mushroom tops (chop any leftover tops and add to vegetable mixture). Put 1/4 cup risotto into each ramekin, then press risotto into the bottom and up the sides of the ramekins to create cavities. Fill each cavity with 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable mixture, then top with remaining risotto, packing tightly. Place remaining vegetable mixture in a small baking dish. Place ramekins and baking dish with vegetables on a baking sheet; bake for 15 minutes.

Remove risotto and vegetables from oven. Run a paring knife around edges of ramekins. Invert risotto onto serving plates and sprinkle with pepper. Serve warm with vegetables.

I more-or-less followed the instructions, except I used a portobello mushroom instead of porcini, didn’t add the mint, and added more diced portobello mushrooms to the vegetable mixture.  Oh… and I used beef broth not vegetable broth.

The eggplant dish did not have a lot to do with the recipe – other than they both contained a few of the same ingredients.

Melanzane, Toma e Pomodori


  • 2 medium eggplants (about 1½ pounds)
  • Salt
  • 1 1/3 pounds tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying
  • ¼ cup whole almonds, finely chopped
  • 14 whole basil leaves
  • ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ pound semi-firm goat cheese, such as drunken goat


Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Cut eggplant into ¼-inch-thick rounds and arrange in 1 layer on prepared pan. Lightly salt rounds, cover with a second sheet of parchment paper, and top with heavy pots to weigh down. Let sit at room temperature until liquid is released, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add tomatoes and cook for 20 seconds. Drain and immediately run under cold water for 5 seconds. Peel, seed and dice tomatoes; place in a medium bowl.

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Pour mixture over tomatoes. Tear 2 basil leaves, add to tomato mixture and stir to combine; set aside.

Heat oven to 350°.

Remove parchment paper from eggplant rounds and pat rounds dry with paper towels. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Fill a large skillet with ½ inch oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, lightly coat both sides of eggplant with flour. Fry until golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.

In an 8-x-12-inch baking dish, layer eggplant, tomato mixture and cheese, stacking layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with a layer of cheese. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with remaining basil leaves.

Okay…  I browned the almonds and then added tomatoes to the pan and made a thick concoction to place in the bottom of two well-buttered 12oz oven-proof straight-sided bowls.

I followed the instructions for the eggplant, draining, flouring, and frying.

I browned about 4 ounces of ground beef with a pinch of garlic and fresh herbs.  I had hard-cooked a dozen eggs to have around the house and sliced two of them.

Cooked about 4 ounces of fava beans and made a quick sauce of 1 plum tomato, a splash of olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasoning.

And 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella.

And then I layered it all…

The tomato and almonds, then fried eggplant, ground beef, a spoonful of sauce, mozzarella, fava beans, sliced eggs, more eggplant, and the rest of the sauce.

I covered it with parchment paper, then with foil, and both it and the risotto went into the oven at 350° for 45 minutes.

And the June 2010 issue just arrived today.

Stay tuned.